(Posted on October 18, 2016)

Talking to Strangers about SafetyMost days, you don’t have to look far to spot safety problems all around you. The crew walking around on the neighbours’ roof with no fall protection. The young woman mowing grass for a company near your office, wearing running shoes and no hearing protection. The person at the store standing on the top step of a ladder to reach a light fixture.
Knowing what we all know – as safety-minded people, or as families affected by workplace tragedies – you can’t not notice these things. And you can’t easily put them out of your mind once you’ve seen them.

So now what? Legally it’s not your responsibility to do something. None of us enjoy confrontation, and we don’t want to be busy-bodies or trouble-makers. But.

I had a friend who was great in these situations. I could point out the roofers across the street from our office, or the guys paving the parking lot, repairing their equipment while it’s running. Dwayne would go and talk to the workers. He would remind them that their wives or girlfriends or parents were expecting them home safe that night. He had a way of approaching people – they might be annoyed, but he generally got them to laugh, and nod, and do the right thing.

Without a Dwayne on hand, though, what’s the best way to tackle these situations? It may not always be wise or safe to walk onto a work site to report a safety concern.

Recently, some of Threads of Life’s staff and volunteers were attending a fundraiser when they saw a crew which was taking apart a temporary structure nearby.  One worker was balancing across a centre beam, high above the ground, with no harness and no means at all either to prevent a fall or arrest a fall if it happened.  After some debate, the Threads of Life folks (all wearing their bright green Threads of Life golf shirts) marched in to see the site manager. At first, he didn’t feel it was his place to do anything – the workers were sub-sub-contractors and not his employees. But he also knew who he was talking to, and what Threads of Life is all about, so it didn’t take much argument before he saw his responsibility. He made a call; the work stopped.

In any of these situations, we have no way of knowing what happens once we aren’t looking – maybe the workers go directly back to doing what they were doing before. Maybe a boss directs them to get back to work, and they don’t have a good option. But at least they’ve heard the message, and know that someone cared enough about their welfare to point out a danger.

And at least we’ve done something about what we’ve seen. Is that enough?

Today, we all feel a responsibility to do something if we suspect a child is being abused, or if we fear someone is at risk of harming himself or herself due to a mental illness. So what’s our moral responsibility, as regular citizens, for the safety of strangers?

Have you ever talked to strangers about safety? How have you responded when you saw something risky going on? Let’s share approaches that work!


Susan Haldane